Thursday, January 28, 2010

Robert Burns - A question at church - Who is he anyhow? Part I

A farmer named William Burness and his wife Agnes Brown had a son.  They named him Robert.  The date was January 25, 1759.  The father was largely self educated and was a poor man as the world thinks, but he was a rich man in character.  He was independent, sincere, hard-working, God fearing and devoted to his wife and children.

William Burness was a tenant farmer and never owned land.  He toiled long hours with lots of legal problems.  He died in 1784, worn out and bankrupt.  "It was watching his father being beaten down that helped make Robert Burns a rebel against the social order of his day and against all injustice."

The wife and mother was Agnes Brown Burness.  She was uneducated, could not read or write.  In time, she gave birth to seven children, 2 boys and 5 girls.  Despite her lack of formal education, she had a keen memory and a beautiful singing voice.  She sang the old songs of Scotland as she worked and Robert listened.

His father gave all the children the best education he could afford, often hiring private tutors.  Burns, himself  was an avid reader.The early days of Robert Burness, (later he changed the name to Burns)  was filled with grinding poverty and hard work.  By the age of 13, he did the work of a man on a poor family diet, no doubt often filled with haggis.  The hard work and limited diet lead to rheumatic heart disease which lead to an early death. 

When he became a man, he was 5'10" tall and of a powerful build.  His head was larger than average and he possessed large brown eyes that glowed with enthusiasm and passion when he talked.  When Sir Walter Scott at age fifteen, saw Burns in Edinburgh he would later write that in his entire life, he never saw such wonderful eyes.

Burns was restless, proud, intensely sympathetic and filled with a nameless ambition.  He was a brilliant conversationalist and an admirable letter writer.  It was said that he was a danger to religion and was a 3rd Degree Freemason.  He struggled with the Calvinistic doctrine and was always in trouble with the established church.

He believed in the dignity and personal freedom of the common man.  His support of the French Revolution almost cost him his government job as a tax collector. In his heart, he supported the American Revolution and wrote a poem to honor George Washington.   "Whatever be my failings, for failings are a part of human nature, may they ever be those of a generous heart and an independent mind."  God knows, he said, "I'm no saint, but if I could - and I think I do it as far as I am able - I would wipe all tears from all eyes."

Perhaps, his greatest contribution was in the field of music. He learned to play the fiddle at twenty-two and wrote and/or and set to music over 300 songs.  Those songs his Mother sang, he placed on paper.  "He took the whole body of Scottish folk songs and brought them together in a new life and spirit.  He did it as a work of love for Scotland and refused all payments for his songs."

I will post Part I now and Part II tomorrow.  If you find mistakes, please make a comment and let me know.

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